As the final credits roll on 2017, let’s take a look at the glorious treats we were gifted by the cinematic gods over the past twelve months.
Here’s my list of the 10 best movies of 2017.
(Before we begin, be sure to subscribe to our weekly movie discussion podcast Torn Stubs)
10. American Made. Tom Cruise was in danger of disappearing into the sun-set having portrayed no one but Tom Cruise for the best part of 20 years. With Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, The Mummy and the Jack Reacher franchise, Cruise was blandly betraying his earlier work when he was an actual actor portraying actual characters; Born on The Fourth Of July, Interview With The Vampire, Magnolia. Considering the truly awesome performance TC gives in American Made, I would hope his films are always directed by Doug Liman, a talent who has finally cracked the code that has enabled Cruise to step away and allow a character to emerge – an unlikable yet loveable anti-hero with depth and nuance. Cruise’s best role since 1999s Eyes Wide Shut.
9. Tower. A documentary that respectfully looks back at what is considered the first modern mass shooting in America – the 1966 University of Texas campus sniper massacre – featuring newly recorded interviews and eye witness accounts. The filmmakers have avoided stale recreation techniques that populate cheap documentaries on The History Channel by employing the use of modern rotoscope. On paper that sounds terribly inappropriate – rendering tragic events in digital cartoons but it gives the film a charm and a character that acts as the perfect way to not only engage a video-game savvy millennial audience, but also allows us to keep a slight distance from the real-world horror so you can consider the heart breaking event. A unique, ground breaking and important piece of filmmaking.
8. IT. There are no so-so Stephen King film adaptations. It’s really very binary – they are either amazing, or so stupendously shit they leave you wondering which studio exec got the chop in the aftermath. King’s 1986 novel of the same name runs to 1200 pages, spans 30 years and involves countless characters. The genius idea here is to concentrate on the childhood segment of the narrative (relocated from King’s 1950s to the 1980s) and to do it well. And bloody hell they do. Whilst not as scary as I was hoping for, and ever-so-slightly-too-reliant on CGI and jump-scares, Andrés Muschietti directs a muddy-rose-tinted coming of age tale that captures the spirit of 80s adventure films but also cleverly coat-tails on the cultural success of Stranger Things. Bill Skarsgård steps out of the shadows of his father and brother’s success by hiding in the shadows as Pennywise The Dancing Clown – his being a more quiet and psychological portrayal than Tim Curry’s theatrics in the 1990 mini-series. Fun, thrilling and due to a healthy box office, soon to return for Chapter 2.
7. God’s Own Country. A love film with two nuanced central performances at it’s heart. Rather than the warmth and safety of Italy (see below), God’s Own Country is located in the drab and bitterly cold Yorkshire dales and see’s Josh O’Conner’s Johnny fall for Alec Secareanu’s Gheorghe in a moving story of desire and self acceptance. First time feature director Francis Lee gives the film a slight documentary feel with hand held cameras and scenes showing the actors engaging in actual farm work, as well as making a character of the Dales itself with many shots of the beautifully hilly and unrelenting landscape. An unabashed and unashamed personal story; British filmmaking at it’s finest.
6. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer. Continuing his working relationship with Colin Farrell, director/co-writer Yorgos Lanthimos gives us a subtle, left of field and brutal parable of revenge of the trickiest kind. Farrell, never seemingly at home in big blockbuster film, has re-established himself comfortably into the indie world of late – The Lobster, The Beguiled (more on that here) and now in …Deer – gives a glorious performance as a surgeon trying to save his family from Barry Keoghan’s quietly vicious Martin. Staccato delivery, Kubrick-style camera work and utterly absurd circumstances means this film gets in your head and stays there, inspiring internalised play-back long after the credits have ended.
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Indie darling Rian Johnson continues his leap to the mainstream studio arena by writing and directing this 9th Star Wars movie. That he’s made a subversive, dark and totally unexpected episode is unsurprising when you consider Brick reimagined film noir as a high school drama, and Looper took the stale time-travel genre and added some really enjoyable zest in the form of Bruce Willis’s best role in 15 years. Moving the space-opera on from the safe-familiar-territory template of JJ Abram’s The Force Awakens and crafting a cranky and bitter tale of legends-gone-sour has made VIII the best SW film since V way back in 1980. Not all of it is great, but the amazing (Luke/Rey/Kylo) vastly outweighs the slack (Casino/Moose-Horses), making this a true Star Wars game changer. That universe will never be the same ever again.
4. Call Me By Your Name. So much goes unsaid in this gorgeous, inspiring tale of first love that I fell head over heels for. Anchored by two wonderful performances by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, director Luca Guadagnino crafts a film so rose-tinted for the Italy of his youth that I was left longing for a holiday, a romance, and some fruit-love, the kind-of-which-dare-not-speak-it’s-name. Aspirational, sensual and gorgeous. European filmmaking at it’s best.
3. The Handmaiden. Park Chan-wook’s film, inspired by Sarah Waters‘s novel, Fingersmith, is a twisty-turny, visually sumptuous tale of class status, sexuality, deceit and truth. Weaving back and forth through three parts, we’re constantly asked to consider the ambiguous character’s motivations and never spoon-fed solutions. The Handmaiden is a prime example of why a diet of purely American cinema will rot your brain to Kardashian mush. Diversify your film experiences! Totally worthy of a double feature with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashōmon.
2. Dunkirk. Of all the filmmakers working within the studio system right now, Christopher Nolan is the one who seems most out of time and place – and I mean that as a compliment. Whilst many filmmakers are seemingly ones for hire, Nolan is an auteur in the Kubrickian sense. Nolan is a 70s filmmaker working with 21st century budget and technology. His passion for the purity of film as an artistic medium is never more apparent than with Dunkirk. His war film is a big budget art project that is a truly audio visual experience. The employment of a unrelenting sound scape blended with Hans Zimmer’s score works hand in hand with the visuals dreamt up by Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, making this a brutally immersive cinematic experience. The bleak beach landscapes and the unwelcoming English Channel stretching into the distance are punctured with the never ending ascending pitch of shepard tones, pumping in-ear terror. Ignoring the historical inaccuracies, this is a perfect film and a warming shot to all other filmmakers to step up their game. That is of course all expect David Lynch…
1. Twin Peaks: The Return. David Lynch and Mark Frost headed back to their most famous town for the first time since the early 1990s and with Lynch directing all 18 episodes, the result is the most amazing display of artistic freedom I have ever seen – nostalgic, dreamy, shocking, intoxicating and frustrating. Kyle Mclaughlin gives a career best performance, portraying 3 characters that embody heroics, physical comedy and sheer terror. That the series was broadcast on TV and presented in 18 parts does not mean it is a TV show. Twin Peaks: The Return is an 18 hour long movie shown in hour segments and is a mysterious puzzle that, like all of Lynch’s best work, can only be solved by letting it seep into your psyche until you are totally taken over by that deadly dark world. The culmination of everything Lynch has ever created, Twin Peaks: The Return shifts easily between comedy, horror, police-procedural drama, soap opera and in the case of the-already-reached-legendary-status episode 8, an ever changing surrealist and Dada-ist inspired audio visual kaleidoscopic collage of themes, sounds and images. If this is to be the last film Lynch directs, it is the perfect one to go out on. We should consider ourselves lucky enough to have lived in 2017, to have witnessed it first time around.